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Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Monday, June 16, 2014

It's Just Been Revoked: Is Hearsay Sufficient to Revoke Probation?

North Carolina Rule of Evidence 1101(b)(3) indicates that the North Carolina Rules of Evidence do not apply at probation revocation proceedings. In State v. Murchison, the Court of Appeals of North Carolina had reversed a trial court order revoking the defendant's probation because the trial court relied solely upon hearsay; the Supreme Court of North Carolina then reversed the appellate court's order. Was this proper?

The hearsay evidence consisted of

-an officer's testimony reporting the statements of defendant's mother that defendant had broken into her home and threatened defendant's girlfriend and her with a knife; and

-the computer printout from the Administrative Office of the Courts showing that defendant had been indicted for first-degree burglary in Lee County, with the case calendared for that very week.

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court, holding that these pieces of evidence were inadmissible hearsay and that was thus "not competent so 'as to reasonably satisfy the judge in the exercise of his sound discretion that the defendant ha[d] willfully violated a valid condition of probation.’'"

The Supreme Court of North Carolina, however, reversed the appellate court, citing North Carolina Rule of Evidence 1101(b)(3) for the proposition that the North Carolina Rules of Evidence do not apply at probation revocation proceedings. Specifically, the court found that"[b]ecause the proceeding was a probation revocation hearing, the trial court was not bound by the formal rules of evidence and acted within its discretion when it admitted the hearsay evidence."

The way I see it, though, this analysis merely flirts with the issue. The issue was not whether the hearsay evidence was admissible; the issue was whether hearsay evidence, standing alone was competent so as to reasonably satisfy the judge that the defendant violated a condition of his probation (the burden of proof). To me, that's a more interesting and difficult question to answer, and it is one not addressed by the North Carolina Supremes.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2014/06/north-carolina-rule-of-evidence-1101b3indicates-that-the-north-carolina-rules-of-evidence-do-not-apply-at-probation-revoc.html

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